Saturday, September 8, 2007

A master race of computers by 2040

What if your computer was smarter than you? Top experts in artificial intelligence are participating in a two-day conference at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater this weekend to talk about the consequences of tremendous technological change. Participating technologists include heavyweight thinkers like Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, and Rodney Brooks, of MIT and iRobot. Entrepreneurs include venture capitalist Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, and Barney Pell, co-founder of Powerset.

Why are all these smart people interested in such a wacky subject? See the Mercury News interview with Peter Thiel.

The next big bargain: A record number of homeowners are in foreclosure, according to data compiled from April to June by the Mortgage Bankers Association. The problem is caused by subprime mortgages in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. According to the bankers' association, "were it not for the increases in foreclosure in those four states, we would have seen a nationwide drop in the rate of foreclosure filings."

What does this mean if you live in California? The Golden State has 17 percent of all adjustable-rate subprime mortgages. Declining home prices have made it hard to refinance the loans. And it's also hard to sell
the homes: thanks to a building spree the inventory of homes available for sale in the western region of the United States was at an all-time high in June.

And then there are the investors. About one-in-five defaults in California as of June 30 were from mortgage holders who didn't live in their homes.

Pay extra, get your data faster: The Justice Department today told the Federal Communications Commission that it should allow fees for priority delivery on the Internet - similar to the overnight express fee charged by the U.S. Postal Service.

Various Silicon Valley companies, including Google and eBay, have been fighting this under the banner of "network neutrality," an idealistic-sounding concept that basically seeks regulation preventing broadband providers from charging application providers (like Google) or content providers for having their bits prioritized.

Right now, consumers can choose to pay more for broadband or not. Companies like Google and eBay can also choose to pay businesses such as Akamai or Mirror Image Internet to deliver content quicker.

$100 for early iPhone buyers: Apple said it would give early iPhone purchasers a $100 store credit to make up for the fact that the $599 model they bought three months ago can now be bought for $399. "I have received hundreds of e-mails from iPhone customers who are upset about Apple dropping the price of iPhone by $200 two months after it went on sale," Steve Jobs wrote in a letter posted on Apple's Web site. "After reading every one of these e-mails, I have some observations and conclusions."

First, Jobs said, he was sure he was right. "I am sure that we are making the correct decision to lower the price of the 8GB iPhone from $599 to $399."

Second, Jobs said, customers need to embrace change. "Being in technology for 30+ years I can attest to the fact that the technology road is bumpy."

Third, Jobs said, even though he's right and even though customers need to embrace change, it's important not to screw customers. "Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these."

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